NOW we’re getting to the meaty stuff. I recently posted a list of Sam Raimi’s most weird and warped moments that didn’t find their way into an Evil Dead movie, but now we turn our attention to the trilogy that made the director’s name before he got himself tangled up in the web of Spider-Man.
A fascinating series of movies that change it’s tone with every subsequent episode; we start with the no-budget, independent horrors of the original as a bunch of punk kids nearly killed themselves trying to make “the ultimate experience in gruelling horror” (seek out the Making Of book by Bill Warren for the full, unbelievable story), then we segue into Evil Dead II, the greatest live action horror cartoon ever made and finally we hit Army Of Darkness, the full on comedy fantasy that blends together the Three Stooges with Jason And The Argonauts.
All have their devotees and all are completely genius in their own special way – so to celebrate Raimi’s return to otherworldly freak outs with Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, here’s the most looney tunes moments from the most out there trilogy around.
Yo, she-bitch. Let’s go.
5) Terrifying Timeout (The Evil Dead – 1981)
During a rare breather in Sam’s DIY masterpiece, Ash finds himself the last teen standing after all his friends have either possessed, mutilated or possessed and mutilated and while our terrified hero tries to get his bearings, the evil force lurking in the forest decides to fuck with him a little while.
It’s a nice gear change from all the extreme violence and enthusiastic gore and proves that the fledgling director could be a little subtler with his unrelenting horror.
So we follow a sweat soaked Bruce Campbell as he desperately tries to cling to his sanity – while Raimi clings tenaciously to his non-existent budget – while he reacts to such things as loud footsteps on the ceiling, a blood filled lightbulb, a haunted gramophone that plays an eerily jaunty tune and the endless trolling of his Deadite sister Cheryl.
While all the overexcited blood flinging is far more rock and roll, it’s this scene that marked Raimi out as a genuinely talented director and someone who might have a career beyond a dilapidated cabin in Tennessee.
4) Bony Beat Down (Army Of Darkness – 1992)
If (rare) moments of The Evil Dead revealed Raimi’s capacity for subtlety, trilogy capper Army Of Darkness showed us what he could do if in a really silly mood and things don’t get much more endearingly stupid than this. After failing a multiple choice test twice when having to pick from three identical Necronomicons and then bungling the incarnation needed to safely swipe the evil book from its alter, Ash inadvertently causes an entire graveyard of skeletons to resurrect and lay down some serious, Three Stooges-style hurt on our dim witted hero. As he sprawls screaming on the ground, numerous bony arms soring from the ground and start performing various slapstick skits on him like slapping him across the face, fishhooking his nose and mouth with their probing digits and attempting to poke him in the eyes.
Quite possibly the most outright stupidest moment in the entire trilogy, it’s also an utterly fucking perfect example of Raimi pushing his comedy chops as far as he can while Campbell mugs it up magnificently.
3) Cheryl Peril (The Evil Dead – 1981)
Some have lamented that Raimi never made more “straighter” horror flicks as the man obviously has a talent at staging some truly unnerving images and probably the best example of that is the very first assault of the Deadite possessed Cheryl. Everything thus far – the atmospheric opening, the creepy recording, Cheryl’s nasty instance of tree rape and the broken bridge – has been leading to this moment as everyone tries to settle down for the night after the day’s events. As Ash’s girlfriend, Linda, tries to guess cards with limited success, Cheryl suddenly jumps in, guessing everything right in a drugged, faraway tone that soon becomes vicious and she whirls round to reveal a bestial expression on her now-demonic face. From then on in it’s utter chaos as Cheryl levitates, spits out some cryptic threats and collapses into a heap on the floor – only to leap up, jab a pencil into Linda’s ankle with wince inducing force and throw the stunned men folk through various bits of furniture before finally being locked in the fruit cellar.
While nowhere near as daffy as, say, Bruce Campbell’s arms stretching like rubber in Army Of Darkness, Raimi still proved early on that his trademark style of violent shenanigans doesn’t always have to come with a snorting chuckle.
2) The Good, The Bad And The Fugly (Army Of Darkness – 1992)
Due to the various edits of Army Of Darkness that emerged in the wake of its distribution hell, this scene has numerous alternate versions – fitting considering that Raimi’s Doctor Strange movie also deals with variants of staple MCU characters – but in the most complete version you can find (I’d go with the old Region 1 Director’s Cut DVD for best results), we join Ash, stranded in medieval times while fighting off nasty little miniature versions of himself as they jab him with forks and cause him to slam his face onto an extra-hot stove. He eventually ends up swallowing one of the tiny buggers and it takes root inside and eventually grows another, eviler, full-sized Ash that sprouts out of the original’s side and finally breaks off to square up to our bemused hero.
“I’m Bad Ash!” leers the imposter, “And you’re Good Ash! You’re goody little two shoes!”. Evil Ash then starts to do a merry little jig while chanting “goody little two shoes” and belting his twin in the face in time with the music only to be met with a face full of boomstick. The blast reduces his looks to a pockmarked mess and blows him clear across the glade while Ash winds up a typical, killer one liner – but it differs depending on which cut you’re actually watching. My preferred line reading? “I ain’t that good.”.
Total bodily dismemberment and grave digging naturally ensues.
1) Every Single Solitary Second Of Evil Dead II (Evil Dead II – 1986)
I tried to break it up, I really did, but in the end it proved to be utterly impossible for me to whittle down Raimi’s greatest achievement to bits and pieces. How in earth could I possibly pick and rank so many winning moments that make up this impossibly lean, all killer no thriller sequel that’s stuffed from top to tail with effortlessly magnificent moments? Answer: I couldn’t and I shouldn’t – so my solution was to cheat and include all of it (my list, my rules).
So let’s list ’em: there’s the bit where Bruce Campbell’s Ash is hurled through the forest by an evil force, the Deadite Linda’s dance routine, the laughing stag head, the self-inflicted severing of Ash’s possessed hand (“Who’s laughing now!”), the blood flood, the mutilation of Evil Ed, Henrietta’s transformation, the flying eyeball, the chainsaw montage (“Goovy!”) and many, many more moments too numerous to mention.
Camp perfection and still the unfettered Raimi experience to beat.
Honorable Mention – Ash Vs Evil Dead Season1, Episode 1 – El Jefe – 2015
While technically Sam never left the Evil Dead franchise (he also co-produced the Evil Dead remake and the upcoming Evil Dead Rise), he hadn’t been in the directing chair and ordering Deadites around since 1992’s Army Of Darkness; this all changed when he returned to direct the pilot episode of the Starz TV series Ash Vs Evil Dead. While the episode has some classic Raimi moments (our first catch up with Ash in over twenty years as he heads out to bars at closing time to troll for dates is utter perfection), the climactic scene where the pot bellied chosen one shows horrified sidekicks Pablo and Kelly exactly how he rolls is gore soaked nostalgia at it’s very campest. Popping skulls with the trusty boomstick and beheading shrieking Deadite clone, Vivian, in one deft move while diving across the room, Campbell shows us all he’s still got the stuff rightfully under Raimi’s returned eye.
Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness is released in the UK on the 5th of May and the in US on the 6th.